Sunset over Cayo Coco

Rewind – Travel in 2016 (1); Cuba in Springtime

Travel wasn’t top of our list in 2016. With the move to rural life there was both too much to do and too much uncertainty about timing really to plan a proper ‘vacation’. Indeed, our summer holiday was, very intentionally, ‘cottage time’ in our new home.

Back at the start of the year, though, I saw a certain tiredness in Paul and, recognizing the long-haul ahead, took the unusual step for us of planning a week away with a focus on doing very little.

Escape into a Cuban Spring

Sugar cane and rum (fresh Pina Colada is a whole different experience!); scuba-diving blessed by the appearance of dolphins  for Paul while I snorkeled the reef; lots of much needed doing nothing round the pool, interspersed with dance classes, tai-chi and water volleyball; a little exploring with glimpses of plantations, mangroves, a crocodile farm and the decaying colonial grandeur of Ciego De Avila and Moron; and, always, the rhythms – rumba, salsa, cha-cha . . .

Honestly, I’m not sure whether or not we will go back to Cuba. There is genuinely a great sense of welcome, even in a somewhat anodyne resort area. But there is also a feeling of smoke and mirrors; things are not entirely what they seem, a lot of the time you see what you are supposed to see, and there are aspects of the Cuban regime and culture that I find difficult and unsettling. We are not very good at ‘resorts’, and, though ours was very good of its kind, that may have influenced my perceptions. Maybe if we go back to ‘travel’, really to see the country rather than laze . . . but I feel there may be other places that call to me more strongly.

Google Photo Album – Cuba

Winter wonder and magic – art and nature

Yesterday we returned from three magical days outside time in Wakefield, just north of Ottawa on the edge of Gatineau Park; days in which to wonder at the way winter transforms the landscape.

‘A Modern Indigenous Master’

First, though, we took in some magic of a different kind; a fabulous retrospective of the work of Alex Janvier, one of Canada’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, at the National Gallery.

As an indigenous artist who himself was torn from his family and culture and sent to a reidential school at age eight, some of Janvier’s work references very directly the suffering experienced by indigenous people in Canada. At times it is, quite rightly and very movingly, political and outraged. But there is also huge vitality, spirituality and joy. I felt with many of his works that I could sit and be with just one piece for a long time and keep finding new elements and insights. 

Winter – transformation and meditation

Wakefield MillOur destination was Wakefield Mill, a lovely converted 19th-century flour mill on the banks of the Gatineau River, surrounded by 24 acres of forest.  We arrived the day after a minor ice-storm; the roads had been cleared and the journey was fine, but, without significant subsequent snow-fall, even the day after we arrived was exceptionally icy and treacherous. Despite this, we managed to try out our new snow-shoes on a short trail behind Wakefield’s covered bridge.

 

 

I find the light and sparkle of snow, the dampened sound cut through with the crunch of a crisp crust cracking underfoot, the distorted forms of rocks and trees, the transformation of running water into constantly changing sculptures, entrancing.  

This is the best of meditations; I am effortlessly present,  ‘just being’. For me, winter makes it easy to access the child’s wonder and joy.

 

A second outing before we started for home saw us climbing fairly steeply up through woods to a peak above the village where we could look out across the white expanse below – stunning! We looped back down a gentler trail, the first folks through after six inches or so of snow the day before.

pano_20161230_121746-1

 

Of course, every homecoming is also a gift living here; today we were gifted Alice in winter pastels . . .  (Alice is the first island we see as we look out across Cranberry Lake!).

Alice in winter pastels

 

Google Album (more photos!)

Loving the land

One of the things that has surprised me about our move is the intensity of my feeling towards our 2.5 acres of land.

I am awed that we have shoreline, Shield rock, woodland, wetland and meadow, all in this small space!

I had not anticipated the strong sense not so much of ownership but of stewardship that I feel. I want to do right by the land and the creatures that share it with us.

As winter approaches, we are working hard to get the external jobs done. Putting away kayaks and garden furniture, blowing and gathering up some but not all the leaves for compost (the layer on the grass would be just too deep otherwise and the compost will be so useful), cutting wood, replenishing paths . . .

Timber . . . !

We had something like seven trees felled last weekend, which sounds more drastic than it was.

A Basswood (Linden) was partly uprooted in our wood and had to come down for safety, taking at least one other tree (cherry) with it. Then there was a dead Elm in the wetland.

Otherwise it was what the locals consider a ‘weed tree’, four Manitoba Maples (Box Elder, Ashleaf Maple). They shoot up everywhere, are very brittle, don’t burn particularly hot and are perceived as a nuisance. We had one threatening our garage, septic system and the neighbours’ power lines and another that would have also grown through the power lines.

We now have a lot of logs to split (the start of our firewood for the winter of 2017/18) and smaller branches to feed through a wood chipper. The resulting chips are awesome for replenishing our path down to the shore and for creating our way through the woods.

On the plus side, the weather has been largely sunny and mild and doing physical work outside appeals to both of us so much more than going to a gym.

It could take a while though!

Brass Point Bridge - View at Dusk

The next chapter: moving rural (3)

That sense of homecoming finds constant affirming echoes. Seeley’s Bay is a little smaller than Tisbury[1] and Kingston rather bigger than Salisbury[2] but there is a comfortable resonance. The Bath Stone I grew up with is oolitic limestone; Kingston is known as the ‘Limestone City’. As the original capital of Upper Canada, Kingston has older buildings (if not ‘old’ by European standards) than much of Canada, from elegant mansions to more humble cottages, as does the surrounding area. Kingston’s Springer Market Square evokes memories of Salisbury’s market and especially of trips to the fair. There will always be an inward smile when we go to a play Thousand Island’s Playhouse; Salisbury Playhouse was one of the treasures of my early life (so awesome to find a really rich theatrical culture around us here).

Kingston 2016 (8 of 8) Kingston 2016 (3 of 8) Kingston 2016 (4 of 8)

A long time British immigrant mentioned to me the other day that one thing she does miss about the UK is the diversity of the scenery within a relatively small area. Canada is a country known for its vast panoramic landscapes and, sometimes, they can go on for just a bit too long. Here we wend our winding way along roads that transition between bucolic agricultural vistas, craggy outcrops of shield rock that belong much further north, typical Ontario marsh, woodland, and jaw-dropping water views.

Rideau (5 of 11) Lower Brewers Lock Rideau (10 of 11) Woodland ascent to Rock Dunder Rideau (11 of 11) View from Rock Dunder, the highest point between Kingston and Ottawa

I do not, honestly, miss England. But it seems that I have sought out a place that brings past and present together, integrating those things that I loved and valued in my childhood with the choice I have made to be Canadian. That feels like a pretty good opening for the next chapter!

[1] Tisbury was my nearest village growing up, about 3 miles from the hamlet where we lived.
[2] Likewise, Salisbury, at 12 miles away, was our nearest city.